Theatre preview: Polaris @ Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Published by METRO

Tonight (1 February), £15 (£11 concessions, £6 unemployed), Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh. Tel: 0131 228 1404/226 2666. www.traverse.co.uk

Ah yes, I remember this show. The one about two men struggling through a sub-zero wilderness. That powerful tale of endurance, madness and companionship. Those artistic forms of drama, audio and film. What an incredible piece that was.

This could well be how Polaris is recalled after its staging in Edinburgh tonight. Performed by Czech company Wariot Ideal, the work is a stand-out highlight of the manipulate Visual Theatre Festival – taking place at the Traverse all week.

The story sets its scene deep in a polar region, where a pair of lost and starving explorers navigate a lonely landscape in the brutal cold. These tragic heroes forge a bond as they battle to survive and hallucinate their arrivals home.

In a series of powerful tableaux, the men’s efforts allude to courageous voyages of old – well-timed, perhaps, in the centenary year of Captain Scott’s ill-fated Terra Nova Expedition in Antarctica.

Celebrating its fifth birthday this week, manipulate should live to see its 50th if it continues to feature works of this promise.

Polaris shines on the festival’s high-calibre programme of artistic talent, the likes of which only the Traverse can attract.


Festival preview: manipulate Visual Theatre Festival @ Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Published by METRO

Tonight (30 January) until 4 February, various times and prices, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh. Tel: 0131 228 1404/226 2666. www.traverse.co.uk

What links this event and Justin Bieber? There’s a question for you. Please, take a moment to think about it. Is one something that features puppetry and the other a puppet of the manufactured pop music industry, you ask? Come on now, don’t be mean. Is that it? Are you giving up already?

It’s the number five. Five years since Bieber was introduced to the world in a YouTube clip uploaded by his mother, and the fifth consecutive year manipulate Visual Theatre Festival is offering its eclectic programme to Scottish audiences.

Amazingly, that could well be their only commonality. So now, as in an arts essay, I’ll move on to some notable contrasts between the two.

For starters, manipulate is not for kids. Although the festival showcases some of the most imaginative works of puppetry internationally, it also realises dark and complex themes through other mediums – such as animation, film and physical theatre.

The first-ever manipulate event was launched by Puppet Animation Scotland in 2008, and promised ‘performances, master classes and exhibitions to entertain, challenge and inspire’. Its message remains the same this week at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre.

‘manipulate is all about presenting innovative work which has been created with passion for adults who are looking to be engaged both intellectually and emotionally,’ said Puppet Animation Scotland’s artistic director Simon Hart.

‘It’s also about demonstrating triumphantly that puppetry is not just for children!’

Next point. Unlike Bieber, manipulate provides a varied artistic experience. Over six days, the festival welcomes a dynamic calibre of stage and screen creations from around the world.

I’ll be more specific. Showing only tonight is an explosive nine-page version of Hamlet, written by German playwright Heiner Müller. Taking the form of a staged piece, Hamletmachine also uses puppetry and film to visually convey the heightened drama and tensions of Shakespeare’s original.

Tomorrow evening presents Plucked, a beguiling effort by Liz Walker and her England-based company Invisible Thread. Live video-feed painting, animation and object theatre portray a miniature world in which the haunting, funny and tragic are captured in fairytales.

Plus there’s Off To The Asylum, which explores the madness of human nature in eight short films on Thursday.

‘Our audiences experience so many different styles of visual theatre, puppetry and physical theatre. There’s something inspiring and challenging for everyone,” continued Mr Hart.

He added that the reputation of the Traverse Theatre helps attract such exciting global talent to Scotland.

Finally, and moving swiftly towards my groundbreaking conclusion, there’s another key difference between manipulate and Justin Bieber. As both approach their respective five-year milestones, only one might be around to enjoy a 50th. I'll leave you to speculate which.


Music preview: Jack Bruce with special guests LAU & Friends and Domini Magic @ Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow

Published by METRO

Tonight (25 January), 9pm, £20, Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow. Tel: 0141 353 8000. www.glasgowconcerthalls.com/oldfruitmarket

Burns Night was a messy one for me last year. No, it turned out that spending the wee hours reciting poetry in slurred Scots after one too many whiskeys wasn’t the finest way to celebrate The Bard’s birthday, despite my prior reckoning. But please, I have a better idea this time around. Honestly.

Tonight, the Old Fruitmarket hosts a highlight of Glasgow’s Celtic Connections festival – less than one week into its 18-day run.

Legendary musician Jack Bruce – once of the 1960s rock band Cream – returns to his city of birth for an intriguing show at this enchanting venue.

And the singer-songwriter will deliver a performance worthy of all his indulgences in the jazz, rock and classical formats from half a century on the circuit.

As well as being considered one of the greatest bass players of all time, Bruce is also an accomplished vocalist, cellist, guitarist, pianist, double bassist and harmonicist – but it’s not all about him, you know.

No no, because Edinburgh trio LAU – comprised of Kris Drever, Aidan O’Rourke and Martin Green – will be joining him on stage. With their powerful melodies and varied rhythms, they’re described as their generation’s most inventive folk group.

Percussionist Jim Sutherland, keyboardist Andy May, guitarist Taj Wyzgowski, drummer Chris Peacock, bassist Nico Bruce and Mr McFall’s Chamber complete a super-group that keeps with the collaborative spirit of this annual roots festival.

Support is pleasantly provided by adventurous Catalan string quartet Domini Magic.

OK, after last year’s shenanigans, I know I’ve no right to be offering Burns Night advice to anyone. But while you can drink whiskey and mumble Burns poetry anytime, this very special show is a one-off. Do the right thing.


Comedy preview: Frankie Boyle @ The Stand, Glasgow

Published by METRO

Mondays and Wednesdays until 14 March, 6pm, £10, The Stand Comedy Club, Glasgow. Tel: 0844 335 8879. www.thestand.co.uk/glasgow

Many introductions have been written of this man. However, they'll mostly soon be outdated, because Frankie Boyle's days as a 'comedian' are numbered.

That sounds like a threat, so let me explain. These warm-up shows at Boyle's beloved Stand precede the Last Days Of Sodom tour, which will be his swan song.

Of course, the Glaswegian has announced his early retirement before - 2010's I Would Happily Punch Every One Of You In The Face was supposed to be his final outing - but now he means it.

Yes, his autobiographies, newspaper columns, stand-up gigs and panel show appearances will be no more, so here's your chance to see the master at work before he bows out at the top of his game.

And what of a life after comedy? Happy park strolls with the family? Or lonely allotment shed with the wireless?

Alas, Frankie, farewell. It's been controversial.


Theatre preview: The Infamous Brothers Davenport @ Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

Published by METRO

Thursday (19 January) until 11 February, Tuesdays-Saturdays 7.45pm (matinees Wednesday & Saturdays 2.30pm), £14.50-£29, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh. Tel: 0131 248 4848. www.lyceum.org.uk

AND Tuesday 14 February - Saturday 18 February, 7.30pm, £12-£19 (Tuesday £10), Citizens Theatre, Glasgow. Tel: 0141 429 0022. www.citz.co.uk

VIDEO: The Infamous Brothers Davenport - trailer

Everyone’s really into their Victorian stuff at the moment, aren’t they? What with TV’s Sherlock, Great Expectations and The Bleak Old Shop of Stuff, people have been going wild for contemporary portrayals of the 19th century – and Benedict Cumberbatch.

Well, this love affair with top hats and horse-drawn carriages is not about to end anytime soon. It’s instead taking over Edinburgh, in the form of the Royal Lyceum Theatre’s opening show of 2012.

And what a cracker it is too. Staging its world premiere this Thursday, The Infamous Brothers Davenport breathes new life into a spectacular event that last entertained audiences 150 years ago.

This theatrical treat introduces us to real-life American magicians William and Ira Davenport, who spent a decade wowing crowds in the US before taking their talents to our shores in the 1860s.

The brothers were central to the spiritualist movement, and specialised in séances that had followers convinced of their supernatural powers.

Yet the Davenports’ acclaimed showmanship was at odds with their troubled childhoods – a contrast explored in award-winning playwright Peter Arnott’s script.

This intriguing collaboration between the Royal Lyceum Theatre Company and Glasgow group Vox Motus brings the Victorian séance back to the stage in its gripping original form.

Adding to the atmosphere is a spooky musical score, performed live by Scottish composer Phamie Gow.

‘We are excited to be realising Peter Arnott’s fabulously macabre script,’ said co-director Candice Edmunds.

‘We also can’t wait for the audience to revel in the Brothers’ séance. I hope they get the same thrill out of the experience that we have had creating it!’

So what more is there to say? Let the magic unfold.


Spoken Word preview: Henry Rollins @ Royal Concert Halls, Glasgow

Published by METRO

Friday (13 January), 7.30pm, £18.50, Royal Concert Halls, Glasgow. Tel: 0141 353 8000. www.glasgowconcerthalls.com

So, you ask me, who’s this Henry Rollins fellow? Well, he first found the spotlight when he fronted the hardcore punk band Black Flag in the 1980s. But since then, he’s authored a few books, acquired an array of film and television credits, and become an outspoken political activist. He’s busy with a lot of different stuff, basically.

But it’s all about his spoken word this Friday. Yes, Rollins’s greatly varied one-man shows – in which he shares his sharp perspective and quirky anecdotes – are doing the rounds in Glasgow.

And if there was any doubting this spirited performer’s energy levels in his 50th year – he’s currently knee-deep in a mammoth world tour of North America, Europe and Australasia.

The American may have used many art forms to channel his insatiable imagination over the years, but his humanity shines on the spoken word stage as it does nowhere else. For a jack of all trades, he’s the undisputed master of this one.